General Practice, Solo & Small Firm DivisionTechnology & Practice Guide

From the Editor

by jennifer j. rose

jennifer j. rose, a sole practitioner in Shenandoah, Iowa, is editor-in-chief of The Compleat Lawyer. She can be reached by e-mail and by fax at 712/246-5533.

This is the year for new answers and out-of-the box solutions. On Columbus Day, I discovered another planet: the Internet. Many of you may have already been there, but you're not writing this column.

When we think about communication, the telephone, the television, and the written word come to mind. We hardly ever think about yodeling, smoke signals, or the Morse Code. The Internet has changed all that; it is all of the above and none of them.

At first, I thought the 'net was a guy thing, or something for lonely souls looking for lives, or compulsive researchers. I was wrong. These are the three basic skill requirements for getting on the Internet:

  • Do you know your own telephone number? (optional)
  • Ever watched television? If not, do you have a pulse?
  • Can you type? If not, can you read?
The Internet is perfect for lawyers. Especially solo and small firm practitioners who don't get out among real folk much. Oh, once a year we are required to come up for air at mandatory CLE. Forget about joining chat lines to exchange tawdry details about your life. Forget for a minute about sophisticated legal research. Learn to browse and wander the 'net. Become part of a larger community. Find out that there is a world beyond the law. As the late Dr. Seuss said "Oh, the Places You'll Go." After you've checked the names of everyone on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list against your client rolodex, you really should satisfy the IRS that you are indeed using the Internet for business purposes. Look up the ABAon the Internet (http://www.abanet.org). Find out what the rest of the ABA is doing. Find The Compleat Lawyer's home page on the 'net as well as the General Practice Section's home page.

Like television in its early days, there's a lot of junk on the 'net. And just as television doesn't substitute for a live performance at the Met, e-mail won't replace real mail. People still need a way to send money, perfumed strips, and free samples. But e-mail is perfect for a quick note to someone. What I tell you at two o'clock in the morning reaches you soon thereafter. Retrieving your e-mail at leisure, you have the perverse satisfaction of zapping the message into oblivion. Now, if the e-mailers would only pay more attention proper spelling, grammar, and punctuation.

When I got my first e-mail from someone I actually knew, I felt like Steve Martin did in The Jerk when his name appeared in the new phone book. Kind of like the first time you heard someone refer to you as "my lawyer."

The Information Superhighway?
Calling the Internet an "Information Superhighway" conjures up images of rogue cops, driver's licenses, bandits, and gory I-5 chain reaction pileups, instilling needless fear in law-abiding educated adults. When electricity first came into people's homes, folks thought that something had to be plugged into outlets at all times to prevent electricity from pouring out onto the floor. Businessmen thought manual typewriters, invitations to wholesale forgery, would never catch on. Lawyers of the Roaring Twenties would have been aghast at our dependence upon telephones. The Internet is the telephone and the television and the library and the typewriter of the 1990s. And more.

The Internet has created expanded opportunities for communication among a diverse user audience. Highly respected professionals are finally listening to something teenagers have to say. Librarians and law students suddenly have real power. Secretaries with children gain new respect. Just yesterday, I spent an hour on the phone sharing computer tips with a football coach with whom I never before had anything in common.

But please keep reading this issue of The Compleat Lawyer. You really shouldn't wander the the 'net in the tub, in bed, or at the beach.

What's New
David Hirsch, who joins us in a new technology column, "Tools of the Trade," is a lawyer on the ball. This prescient lawyer from Burlington, Iowa, anticipated the law office of the twenty-first century back when the rest of us were contemplating the IBM Selectronic. Today, he makes many of us look like Hammurabi's scribes chiseling into stone. Tax lawyer Beverly Helm also joins us with a regular column, "Taxing Matters." She has the unusual ability to make a difficult topic like tax interesting and understandable.

Anne McCullough performed a labor of love as issue editor for this employment law issue. Whether you're advising clients about employment law or looking after your own best interest as an employer or employee, there's something for you in this issue.

If your life-style was a country, would it be Albania or Fiju? Stay tuned for this spring's quality of life issue. You'll need it to get in the right state of mind for the summer's tax issue.

At The Compleat Lawyer, we want reader participation. This is your magazine. Contact our authors and columnists whose e-mail addresses and/or fax numbers are shown. Praise them if you must (someone's got to), but don't hesitate to state your position. E-mail me at jjrose@shenessex.heartland.net.

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